Everyone should read Matt Yglesias’s post,”How Close Were We, Really?” which makes a point that I’ve been mulling. The fact that health care reform blew up so quickly after the Brown win implies that whatever consensus had been achieved between the Senate and House, it was significantly incomplete, weak, or both. House liberals apparently were not prepared to pass anything coming out of conference that didn’t reverse the problems they have with the Senate bill. But it’s unclear whether moderate senators or representatives would have stayed on board in that event. If the last week shows nothing else it reveals that a whole lot of members of Congress were decidedly un-excited about supporting anything resembling either chamber’s bill.
This seems like a job for Keith Hennessey: knowing what we know now about the uneasiness of moderates and the stubbornness of liberals, what was the likelihood that reform would have passed if Coakley had won? (Keith had the probability of collapse given a narrow Coakley victory at 10 percent — and two percent with a big win — before the election.)
If this interpretation is right, it implies that many progressives haven’t given enough credit to how far out on the plank many moderates actually went (which isn’t that surprising given how many of them misread the polls). Pre-Brown, moderates were betting that antagonism toward reform wasn’t so strong that their job — their chance to work on all of their other legislative priorities — was in mortal danger. The Brown win provided new information that clearly affected the calculus (as did the initial freak-out by Massachusetts’s own Barney Frank).
Perhaps one big reason why the Obama team (and everyone else) was caught flat-footed after the election was that they were unaware of how much moderates already felt they had stuck their necks out.
All this said, I think the consensus that Democrats having second thoughts ought to accept that they have no choice but to vote for the final bill is correct. Actually, I think these Democrats have probably reached that conclusion too. But it’s important to note that that wouldn’t be enough to pass something — if House liberals won’t vote for the Senate bill, it doesn’t matter what moderates do. What progressive bloggers need to do is start working the liberal legislators in the House.